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Serve-machine Verkerk out to sting ‘Mosquito’

Paris, June 7 (AFP): A topsy-turvy men’s tournament at this year’s French Open could finish up with the proverbial biter being bitten in Sunday’s final.

Third seed Juan Carlos Ferrero goes into the trophy match as the last man standing among the huge Spanish clay court armada.

But the wiry 23-year-old from Onteniente, nicknamed ‘The Mosquito’, now has to draw the sting from a 24-year-old Dutchman who has the serve — and shots — to blast him off the Philippe Chatrier Centre Court.

Pre-tournament logic would have dictated a no contest between Ferrero and Martin Verkerk.

The same logic, however, would have dictated that Verkerk, ranked 46 in the world and without a single Grand Slam match win to his name in seven years on the professional circuit, would not have made it all the way to the last day.

Yet Verkerk — from Leiderdorp between Amsterdam and The Hague — has not fluked his way to the final, taking some notable scalps along the way.

His victims include Spanish 1998 champion Carlos Moya, as well as German 11th seed Rainer Schuettler. He then booked his passage by swatting Argentine seventh seed Guillermo Coria 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 7-6 (7-0) in a two-hour, 40-minute semi-final, firing down 19 aces and 62 winners. He is the first Dutchman to make the final here.

If Verkerk describes his run as “a joke”, it is a joke which will have fallen flat on those he has left by the wayside.

Ferrero may have come here as the Monte Carlo Masters champion and he can boast an astonishing clay court win-loss record for the season of 27-2.

But he is not about to underestimate his rival, whom he beat on Austrian clay in the round of 16 at Kitzbuhel in straight sets in their only previous meeting.

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